Linux Opens Up Your TV

Indrema's revolutionary high-end game console will capitalize on embedded Linux and open-source software development.
What's in the Box?

Let's take a look at what's inside that sleek Indrema box. The core computer consists of a 600MHz x86-compatible processor combined with a dedicated, and relatively customized, graphics pipeline. The graphics subsystem includes MP3 and AC3 encoder/decoders, digital-to-analog converters, and a specialized graphics processing unit (GPU) made by NVIDIA.

Memory is fixed at 64MB, but the hard drive can vary from 8 to 50GB depending on the console model. Of course, there's a 100MBps Ethernet port for fast Internet connection, plus a slew of USB ports (4, in the baseline model) making game controllers—and other devices—a snap to connect.

TV outputs will drive standard composite video, S-Video and component HDTV. Inputs for composite video and S-Video are also provided. On the sound side, there are stereo analog audio outputs and inputs, plus a digital audio output port.

What CPU will Indrema use in the IES? That hasn't been finalized yet, as far as the production models are concerned. Gildred says it's going to be an as-yet-unannounced next generation Intel or AMD processor—“something new, very fast, and really catered to what we're trying to do.”

The system's internal electronic circuitry is modular in just one respect: there is a slot (on the rear of the unit) for a user-replaceable “GPU card” that houses the NVIDIA GPU and associated video frame-buffer memory. Corresponding to this modularity, Indrema has abstracted the GPU functionality in a software driver, so that the system can adapt to future plug-in GPU upgrades.

The four USB ports provide the main means for hardware expansion. Since the IES represents a fully functional multi-media, Internet-connected Linux computer, it's no surprise that Gildred expects those ports to accommodate a wide assortment of interfaces—beyond just game controllers. High-end models will offer even more USB ports on their rear panels.

What Makes It Tick?

What makes the IES tick is, of course, its software. Basically, there are three layers of software involved:

  • an open-source Linux-based operating system, called “DV Linux”

  • proprietary software components that are unique to the IES platform hardware (these are distributed in binary form only, and not open-source)

  • various application programs and games

A free software development kit (SDK) will be distributed on-line at the Indrema developer web site. That SDK will include OpenGL, OpenAL, OpenStream and Extrema. The first three are open source while Extrema, which is one of Indrema's proprietary software components, will be offered in binary form only.

Why Open Source? Why Linux?

Despite the fact that Indrema intends to keep certain software modules proprietary, the company is plainly a strong advocate of open-source software. Indrema participates in several open-source projects—including the Linux kernel, OpenAL and Mesa 3-D (the open-source implementation of OpenGL). In addition, the company is pioneering a new open-source streaming video architecture called OpenStream.

One of the most important Indrema projects has been to create DV Linux, an open-source Linux distribution targeted at devices using TVs for display. “We want DV Linux to be the standard, and we want people to realize that DV Linux is truly open source,” explained Gildred. “That allows us to standardize on a game platform so we can get a distribution [pipeline] going for all the game developers. We're taking steps to be sure that this is something that is supported by several players, not just Indrema. DV Linux is a tool that enables the IES platform, including our development environment, to be very open.”

Production Plans

Although earlier announcements indicated a target delivery date of the 2000 end-of-year holiday season, the current plan is to begin shipment next spring. The target retail price for the entry-level IES is rumored to be $299. Developers won't have to wait as long. Indrema expects the free game development SDK to be available for download by game developers this fall.

Rick Lehrbaum ( created the “embedded Linux portal”, which recently became part of the ZDNet Linux Resource Center. Rick has worked in the field of embedded systems since 1979. He cofounded Ampro Computers, founded the PC/104 Consortium and was instrumental in launching the Embedded Linux Consortium.